20 February 2019
This piece may not be of use to most readers. It's a niche thing, I guess. I am writing it for two reasons.
First, recently someone wrote an email to a list for mystery fans that went vaguely like this:
I just wrote a parody of a well-known crime novel. It's not a REAL mystery so I don't want to send it to mystery magazines. Where do you recommend I submit it?
I immediately thought of a few things I wanted to say. But I felt that if I did it would sound like I was piling on, trying to discourage the newbie. Not at all my goal. So I decided to expand my thoughts, and write some advice today for people thinking about submitting a story for publication for the first time.
The second reason I'm writing this will become obvious in two weeks when my next blog appears. Suspenseful, huh? Tune in, same bat-time, same bat-channel...
Okay. Five thoughts for the newbies out there.
1. If all you have is a hammer, all your problems look like nails. If you go to a list of mystery fans/writers and ask about markets, they are likely to tell you about mystery markets. If that isn't what you want you should probably ask somewhere else.
2. Don't try to read tea leaves when the ingredients are listed right on the box. You want to know what a magazine editor is looking for? They show you detailed examples in every issue. Before you submit to a magazine, read it. If you peruse a few issues of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, for example, you will probably determine that they are not averse to parodies.
3. There are times to think outside the box, and times not to. Creativity and originality are wonderful things in your story. They do not belong in your text-formatting. If you use an unusual font, strange margins, or other gimmicks you are basically offering the editor a written invitation to drop your story in favor of something more professional. If the editor hasn't made specific recommendations (you did check their website, right?) then go with William Shunn's Proper Manuscript Format, which is considered an industry standard.
4. Even if you're paranoid there is probably no one out to get you. If you are determined to convince the editor that you are 1) an amateur, and 2) way too much trouble to bother with, you can't do much better than filling your cover letter and manuscript with copyright notices and dire warnings to anyone who might dare to steal your idea. Trust me; they see hundreds of ideas every year; they aren't going to risk career suicide and personal disgrace by swiping yours.
5. There is a time for patience and a time for the other thing. What do you do if you submit a story and never hear back? Again, you have checked the publication's website, right? It will tell you how long they expect to hold onto a story before they get back to you. Alas, they tend to be optimists. You might want to try Duotrope a site with records which come from actual submissions. If your story is long past its expected return date, send the editor a polite query. By the way, some publishers say flat out that they won't bother to notify you that they have rejected your story, which I think is disgraceful, but people submit there anyway. Keep in mind that if you haven't heard back from a market and you decide to send a story somewhere else it is good policy to send an email saying "I am withdrawing the story."
And that is everything I know about submitting a story to a magazine or other market. Read the comments for advice that will likely pour in from wiser heads than mine. And good luck!
05 May 2018
by John Floyd
by John M. Floyd
I don't like change. I'm sure part of that's because of my age, but also it's just inconvenient. I have certain ways I like to do things, and I'm reluctant to budge from my comfort zone.
One of the things I have changed, though--because I felt I had to--is the way I format the submissions of my short stories.
First, a bit of background. When I started sending my work off to editors, back in the mid-nineties, I obeyed the following rules, for my manuscripts:
- Use Courier font
- Double space
- Underline text that needs emphasis
- Use two hyphens for a dash
- Space twice after a period
Those were the marching orders for almost everyone, with minor variations, because computers were still new enough that a lot of manuscripts were being created on typewriters, and all the above tasks could be performed without a word-processing program.
Now, I do the following:
- Use 12-point Times New Roman font
- Double space
- Italicize text that needs emphasis
- Use em-dashes
- Space once after a period
Sometimes there are exceptions. Several places to which I regularly submit manucrtipts specify in their guidelines that they still prefer underlining instead of italics. Why? I'm not certain, but I suspect they find underlined text easier to spot than italics when they prepare the manuscript for publication. Whatever the reason, if they want it, I'll do it.
Some places, believe it or not, still prefer Courier font. And when I convert a manuscript to Courier before submitting to those markets, I usually also plug in two spaces after every period. That's a personal preference: I think only one space after a period in Courier makes the words look a little too crowded together. Is that just me, or do any of you agree?
That same market likes submissions single-spaced except for a double-space between paragraphs, and no indentions at the beginnings of paragraphs. Again, it's pretty easy to comply with this. I just "select all," then hit "single-space" and go back through the manuscript adding one extra space between paragraphs and removing the indentions.
Occasionally, of course, there'll be other specific things editors want you to do: put only your name and page number in the header, put only your story title and page number in the header, type three asterisks to indicate a scene break, don't use the tab key to indent paragraphs, use strange fonts, center a special symbol at the end of the story, etc. Some of these can seem a little nitpicking, and I often suspect they put such demands into their guidelines just to make sure the writer has done his/her homework and has taken the trouble to read the guidelines.
Other things I always do, with regard to manuscripts (unless guidelines tell me not to):
- I use standard white 8 1/2-by-11 copy paper
- I use one-inch margins all around
- I put name/address/phone/email info at the top left of the first page
- I put an approximate wordcount at the top right of the first page
- I center the title in all caps about a third of the way down the first page
- I double-space once and type my byline (and center it also)
- I double-space twice after the byline and begin typing the story
- I indent all paragraphs and don't have extra spacing between paragraphs
- I suppress widow/orphan control (allowing widows/orphans)
- I turn off grammar-checking
- I put a header at the top right of every page except page one (Last name / TITLE / Page#)
- I use a centered pound sign (#) to indicate scene breaks
- I double-space three times after the final line of the story and center the words THE END
This isn't saying you have to do the above. It's just what I do.
Everything I've mentioned so far assumes a manuscript that'll be either (1) attached as a file (word.doc, usually) to an emailed cover letter, (2) attached and submitted via a market's website, or (3) printed and snailmailed to an editor. Manuscripts copied/pasted into the body of an email are formatted differently: they'll be plugged in as a .txt file, which--after conversion--is in 10-point Courier font and ignores any special characters, including italicized text. To indicate emphasis in one of these manuscripts, I always type an underscore character just before and just after whatever text I'd like them to italicize in the published version. (Example: I saw it in _The New York Times_.) Most manuscripts pasted into the body of an email should also be single-spaced, with unindented paragraphs and a double space between paragraphs.
That's all the information I can think of. How do your submissions differ from these? What are some of the weirdest formatting requirements you've seen, in writers' guidelines? Do you ever submit anything via regular mail anymore? Do you ever use anything except Courier and TNR? Do you use em-dashes or two hyphens? Do you type anything at the very end of your manuscript? How do you indicate a scene break? Do you space once or twice after a period? Main thing is, if what you're doing works, keep doing it.
In two weeks I plan to follow up with several hints and shortcuts to save time when preparing your manuscripts. Meanwhile, keep typing and keep submitting. Best to everyone!